Japanese Breakthrough: Self-Healing Plastic that Decomposes in Seawater

By: | November 11th, 2023

Image by Pixabay

Plastic is very difficult to break down, it persists in the environment for centuries, if not millennia. Scientists have been working on developing eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastic for many years, but it has been a challenge.

Scientists Develop Partially Biodegradable ‘Sustainable Plastic'”

Now, researchers at the University of Tokyo have achieved a breakthrough by developing a new type of plastic that surpasses traditional plastic in terms of strength and flexibility. What’s even more remarkable is that it can retain complex shapes and regain them when heated. This “sustainable plastic” is partially biodegradable and is constructed from an epoxy resin vitrimer.

What are vitrimers?

Vitrimers are a category of plastics that are strong at low temperatures and can be reshaped when heated. However, they tend to be brittle and break easily when stretched.

To overcome this, researchers introduced polyrotaxane molecules into the plastic synthesis process, creating a new plastic variant called VPR (vitrimer incorporated with polyrotaxane).

Shape-Retaining and Self-Healing Properties

At lower temperatures, VPR maintains its shape due to strong internal chemical bonds, but at around 150 °C (302 °F) for just 60 seconds, these bonds start to recombine, allowing the material to change its form. VPR can also break down into its constituent components when exposed to heat and a solvent.

VPR’s Remarkable Biodegradation in Seawater

When submerged in seawater for 30 days, VPR showed a 25% biodegradation rate, with the polyrotaxane breaking down into a potential food source for marine life.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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